Parental Prostitution: Why We “Bribe” Our Kids

By Lisa Barr

It was one of those mornings. Nothing worked. Kids were late for school. One daughter couldn’t find a particular shirt that she “had” to wear and was convinced her sister stole it (she did); one daughter could not find her other UGG boot and turned her room into an earthquake (Richter Scale: 8.6), one could not find her homework assignment that she did the night before (I found it in the bathroom. Don’t ask). And on it went.

Okay, the solution seems easy, right — PLAN IT OUT THE NIGHT BEFORE. (In fact, I think I’m going to have that inscribed on my tombstone one day.) Yes, that works in a perfect world, but not in real life.

Some days, I feel like I’m shouting from the bottom of the well — all my thought-out parenting has gone to shit. No one is listening. The kids are fighting. Breakfast has gotten cold. Everybody’s yelling about something.

So out come the consequences — goodbye computer, hand-over the phone, allowance gets slashed — everybody hates everybody. The family I love with all my heart is not being so loving. Everybody leaves the house for school and work equally pissed. And I just want to pull a Thelma and Louise and get outta Dodge.

Is it too much to ask: Everybody get up and get ready, let’s have breakfast together, and go to school — WITHOUT THE MORNING DRAMA?

What to do? How can I get them to hear me? Devil, I wonder, what part of my soul do you want so that my mornings flow?

After dropping my kids off at school, I sat in my car and knew somewhere out there lies an answer. Perhaps, I’m trying too hard. Perhaps I’m too wrapped inside my kids’ ups and downs. The truth is, I don’t know how to disengage when their hormones make them nutsy. I stoop to their level. I forget all my parental wisdom, and match teenager with teenager.

I have got to stand back, detach, and remain the parent at all times. They love me, because I’ve earned it. They hate me, because I hold the reins. Know this. Love and Hate and Parenting.

And yet.

I’m trying so hard to be the parent I always wanted (that I’ve gone overboard the Other Way). I’m trying so hard to ensure that they can look back and say:  “Okay Middle School sucked but at least home was always a great (safe) place.” I’m trying so hard so they can say I could always talk to my Mom, no matter what. But lately, I wouldn’t want to talk to me. It seems I’m always giving lectures about consideration of others. I sound like that teacher on “The Peanuts” — wah wah wah.

But, is it too much to ask to want my girls to grow up to be good people — and not so entitled? I want them to LOVE me. TALK to me. TELL me what’s in their head … What’s it gonna cost me?

My husband reminds me at every opportunity to stop paying toll at my own doorstep. Stop being so sensitive. They’re fine. They’re normal. They are teenage girls — they are supposed to hate you at times in order for them to separate, cut the strings, and become who they are — not who YOU want them to be.

Oh, shut up, I think to myself, look at YOURSELF in the mirror … but damn when he’s right, he’s right.

I know that I’m not alone here. And there are some parents who go to extremes just to connect to their kids.

Recently, one Dad wrote me that he wanted so badly to connect with his teenage daughter who continually ignores him, that he actually PAYS her to talk to him.

Literally, each piece of information she reveals to him earns her $1. He admitted one night of this quid pro quo, the kid raked in $12. She is just 13 — imagine where this kind of “reinforcement” will take her at 20.

Parental Prostitution. We have all been there at one time or another — maybe not as hardcore and desperate — but yes, we all have worked the street.

While this Dad sunk to an all-time low just to connect to his daughter, in a weird way I understand him. There are so many times that I would pay up just to have that smooth morning flow, peace of mind before 8 a.m. So many parents do indeed “bribe” their kids but label it as “incentives” — dangling dollars as a push for better grades, practicing a sport harder, being nice to a younger sibling, going to sleep at a decent hour, the list goes on.

In fact, in a recent article I read in one of my fave trashy magazines the interviewer asked celebs if they bribe their kids to do things — 100 percent responded a resounding YES.

Is it too much to believe that a middle-schooler on his/her own would say  — Hey, why don’t I set the table? Hey, I’ll walk the dogs, So Mommy, how was YOUR day? Do you want to hear all the details about the boy/girl I like?

Nine out of 10 cases — not happening.

Oh, but there are those precious moments … like when my 16 year old said: “You know, Mommy, I don’t want to go home just yet. How ’bout we pick up drive-thru Starbucks and just drive and talk (Totally!!), or when my 14 year old said: “And how did YOU feel about it — did that hurt YOUR feelings?” (I looked over my shoulder. Me, are you talking to ME?), or when my 13 year old said: “Can I show you all these funny photos on Instagram? (YES, YES, and YES).

Those were FREE moments that felt like a million bucks that actually came my way UNSOLICITED. And I could not get enough. I did not want that blip of connection to end. But then like everything on the teenage-hormonal-rollercoaster — the ride stopped abruptly, and it was back to the usual: Can you shut my door … I heard you the third time … Cool … fine … whatever …

Those unsolicited “dog bones” of affection are hard to come by, especially when your baby morphs into a teenager. So we bribe because it is a means to an end, and sometimes an end to meanness. Show me one parent who has not bribed their kid to get something done … Yes, Desperate Dad with his wallet stuffed with dollars-for-daughter seems ridiculous — and yet for him, those $12 spent just to connect with his kid made his night.

Good parenting? No. Horrible.

Yet, Parental Prostitution is the oldest profession in the book, and for good reason. Given the offer: Would I pay my last dime for my daughter to put TWO Uggs together at night so she is NOT freaking out in the morning … sadly (but don’t tell her) — HELL YEAH!



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